Learning Agility

As organisations seek to target the spend of their development dollars more effectively, we’ve noticed an increasing interest in the concept of learning agility from those who influence, or are responsible for, investing in the development of employees.  So what is learning agility and why does it matter?

The phrase learning agility (first coined by Lombardo & Eichinger) implies the capacity to absorb and apply new information nimbly.  Predictably, there is much academic debate about the most appropriate definition, with some researchers emphasising the elements of speed and flexibility (and hence, distinguishing agility from ability), and others emphasising the requirement to separate behaviours from outcomes.

Identifying those who demonstrate an agility to learn means that organisations can create a pool of individuals who can readily be deployed in a range of roles to address complex challenges across the organisation.  A pool of learning agile talent also increases an organisations flexibility or options when making critical appointments.  Learning agility is equally significant to those in role, as the requirement to adapt and respond to changes in our environment push us to find alternative solutions in new contexts.

There are numerous schools of thought around how to define, and measure, learning agility. For example, Lominger International propose that those who are highly agile learners excel in 4 areas: mental agility, people agility, change agility and results agility.

However in the search for greater conceptual clarity, recent research (DeRue, Ashford and Myers, 2012) proposes that learning agility is composed of both cognitive and behavioural processes, where speed and agility are the key differentiators between low and high levels of agility.  The cognitive processing component is often measured by tools such as Inductive or Abstract Reasoning, Ravens Progressive Matrices and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV).  In our work at LTA we also tap into this component through the use of appreciative levels of work complexity approaches such as the Career Path Appreciation or the Initial Recruitment Interview Schedule (IRIS).

In exploring and measuring the behavioural component, the research team at Teachers College, Columbia University in association with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®), have developed a measurement tool (the Learning Agility Assessment Inventory [LAAI]) that measures core behavioural 'facets' of learning agility. They suggest that there are 4 facets that enable, and 1 facet that impedes, learning agility:

Innovating:  Not being afraid to challenge the status quo
Performing:  Remaining calm in the face of difficulty
Reflecting:  Taking time to reflect on your experiences
Risking:  Purposefully putting yourself in challenging situations
Defending:  Simply being open to learning and resisting the temptation to become defensive in the face of adversity

We are very excited to be in discussions with the researchers about leveraging this work into Australia so that our clients can have an early experience of the Learning Agility Assessment Inventory and support the global validation studies of the instrument.  

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